Arts & Culture: Diversity Dialogue

Cultural Diversity and Inclusion in the Arts in New York State’s Southern Tier

Seek it Local

Why was a spoken word artist from grr, Baltimore presenting to children in Elmira public schools?

Why don’t we support local artists?

To be clear, I’m not saying  that  the artist should have been me. Nevermind that I came up slinging words in public since I was 16 in  New York City, nevermind that  I was there at the beginning of the  Nuyorican Poets Cafe, that  I’ve been there done that, because while I’ve always been a poet,  I’ve not claimed “spoken word” as my metier.

No, this is not about me, but about  the fact that a multi-slam-winning ( National) spoken word artist is just up the road in Ithaca, and that there are a slew of folks in, yes, our own state, in the very birthplace of slam, New York City, who would love to have that connection with comparatively bucolic, though challenged,  Elmira and its youth.  

How was that not only was Corning bypassed, and upstate ( Rochester also has award-winning slammers, and in Buffalo, with its own renowned literary canter, even the fish fry joint plays local word slingers throwing down) but the whole state  was skipped to import someone from a, o, let me put it kindly,  a place of comparative unreknown?

 I remember airing this complaint and being told  that it was about funding.  But it either aches or irks that  when at last, there’s an opportunity, it goes to someone from out of town, or out of state, from far away.

 Is it that presenters don’t know about the wealth of talent in the Southern Tier, in Central New York, in Western New York?  

Artists of Color have made several efforts to organize and inform regional presenters of the talent available in a wide array of disciplines here at home. The hope remains to inform organizers, educators and presenters, so that they will “buy local” seek it local, and support and thereby sustain artists here.


About Akua Lezli Hope

Akua Lezli Hope uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. She wrote her first speculative poems in the sixth grade and has been in print every year, except one, since 1974 with over 400 poems published. Her collections and chapbooks include Embouchure: Poems on Jazz and Other Musics (ArtFarm Press, 1995; Writer’s Digest book award winner), Them Gone (The Word Works, 2018), Otherwheres: Speculative Poetry (ArtFarm Press, 2020; a 2021 Elgin Award winner), and Stratospherics (a micro-chapbook of scifaiku available from the Quarantine Public Library). A Cave Canem fellow, her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an SFPA award, and multiple Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. She has won Rattle’s Poets Respond twice and launched Speculative Sundays, an online poetry reading series. Her work has also been published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies, including: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, The 100 Best African American Poems (Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2010); Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora (Warner Aspect, 2000), Asimov’s Science Fiction, Gyroscope Review, Pensive: A Global Journal of Spirituality & the Arts, Strange Horizons, Star*Line, SciFaikuest, Eye to the Telescope, The New Verse News, Breath & Shadow, The Crafty Poet II: A Portable Workshop (Terrapin Books, 2016), The Cossack Review, Silver Blade Magazine, Stone Canoe, and Three Coyotes. She is the editor of the record-breaking sea-themed issue of Eye To The Telescope #42, and of NOMBONO: An Anthology of Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Creators, the first of its kind, from Sundress Publications (2021). A third-generation New Yorker and an avid hand papermaker and crochet designer, she exhibits her artwork regularly. She sings songs from her favorite anime in Japanese, practices her soprano saxophone, and prays for the cessation of suffering for all sentience from the ancestral land of the Seneca, the Southern Finger Lakes region of New York State.

7 comments on “Seek it Local

  1. The ARTS
    September 25, 2008

    Akua writes: “Artists of Color have made several efforts to organize and inform regional presenters of the talent available in a wide array of disciplines here at home.”

    The ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes administers a state grant program that integrates the arts into our schools’ academic curricula. This program, Local Capacity Building (LCB), has existed in one form or another in our region since the early 1990s. The ARTS strives to match local teaching artists with schools for this program and we do pretty well, but ultimately the schools decide which artists and organizations they will partner with.

    To my knowledge, the Artists of Color group of which Akua speaks has never approached The ARTS Council about the LCB program or other grant programs we administer. I encourage this group to contact us so we can connect you to schools and other entities with which you might be able to work.

  2. akualezli
    September 25, 2008

    “Artists of Color” is a descriptor, not an organization title. As an artist of
    color (one way to describe me, though one might also say first born, second generation neotechnopeasant African Caribbean New Yorker American) I have participated in, and served as a panelist for, several programs that Arts Council administers.

  3. Paul Solyn
    September 26, 2008

    Is the point that local artists *should* be presented, or that other artists *shouldn’t*? Can’t we learn from everyone?

    I grew up in a small Ohio city that had good arts resources for its size: a civic orchestra composed of professional musicians, an art museum, a good community theater. But the community was also deliberately, willfully provincial about the arts (well, it was willfully provincial about lots of things). Columnists in the local newspaper would excoriate people for traveling to the nearest large city, Cleveland, for concerts or museums. “We don’t need to go to Cleveland to hear an orchestra. We have just as good an orchestra right here.”

    Leave out “just as good” and the statement is true. The civic orchestra played six concerts a year and they would good concerts. No one had to go to Cleveland *just* to hear an orchestra, but our civic orchestra wasn’t the equal of the Cleveland Orchestra, nor did our museum have the breadth of the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art.

    This is not a criticism of the local orchestra and museum. Most important to me as a young person was that they had good programs for school visits, my introduction to both concerts and museums.

    This was long enough ago that state arts agencies did not yet exist; there were no “artists in schools” programs that might have brought musicians, visual artists, or poets directly to our school. If they had existed, they might have brought artists from all over the state, not just strictly local people, and the same newspaper columnists would probably have complained about importing poets not just from Cleveland, but maybe from more distant places like Columbus or Cincinnati.

    Furthering the development of artists in our own communities is a fundamental role of the arts council (disclosure: I have been a panelist for the Artist Crossroads program), and it would be wrong to build school programs entirely around artists from “away.” But I would hate to think that there is something wrong with presenting an artist who happens to be from somewhere else, even Baltimore.

  4. akualezli
    September 26, 2008

    Hi, Paul, I think I “met” you a million years ago on Compuserve in the Poetry Forum. My disclosure: I was an early recipient of an Artist Crossroads Grant as well as SOS grants from the Arts and served on the Board of Directors and on Decentralization. You, too, as I did named other places in your home state! As I am writing from Corning, NY, everyplace I named is somewhere else: Ithaca, Rochester, Buffalo and New York City, the birthplace of that movement/school of poetic performance. I think it is useful for youth to know that talent and expertise are near, or a city away and in state; and prefer that my fellow New Yorkers are the first consideration.

  5. Paul Solyn
    September 29, 2008

    Akua, you remember correctly.

    I have to admit that one of the reasons I’m sensitive about this is that, had the subject been music rather than the spoken word, you could have been criticizing a program of my organization. Part of my job – I work for the Jewish Center & Federation – is to present artists whose work embodies a Jewish cultural background and sensibility, although I look for those who also draw on sources from other cultures. This month we presented a Boston-based band that also did two school visits while they were here. They weren’t brought in for school residencies; the school visits were arranged after we booked the concert.

    Of course there are local musicians who are available for school residencies. In this case, I don’t think that anyone in the local music scene is doing very similar work, nor do I think that they displaced any local musician from a school job – but it’s undeniable that the band wasn’t from New York (well, one member lives in NYC).

  6. Akua Lezli Hope
    September 30, 2008

    Hi Paul!
    You make my point yet again….

    While I didn’t describe the artist in detail, her details,
    at least from a gross demographic, phenotypic and art-form point of view could have been fulfilled many times over, here, near and in state ” doing similar work” yes, there are other female African American poets in the area, the region and the state.
    … parenthetically my cousin used to be a Klezmer player of some renown…
    best to you,

  7. Mary Guzzy
    October 2, 2008

    I think we need both: support and professional opportunities for local artists in our region, and inspiration/cross-fertilization from other arts communities. The thing that rankles for local artists, I think, is feeling that someone from “somewhere else” always has more to offer artistically than the artists next door. No artist wants to be the student/spectator all the time, when he/she has so much to offer. By the same token, we need to travel to other communities ourselves, where we’ll be the “visiting expert” to somebody else. I’m not from the Southern Tier — way back when, my origins are in Southern Illinois, though my father was born and spent his childhood in the Albany, NY area. But, now I’m here: a “local” teaching artist(performer/writer/director), and I’ve been fortunate that I can also go and work in other places I’ve already been during a summer hiatus or a break in the semester. What’s needed most here in the Southern Tier or Finger Lakes area, I think is more dialog, chances perhaps to get together from time to time and get to know who’s out there. It’s hard — we’re spread out, isolated often in small communities, there’s a real dearth of decent theatre space of any kind — and especially none of those wonderful converted storefronts or black box theatres where edgy, new work can flower. But, this new opportunity to dialog through the ARTS blog is a great start on perhaps creating new working relationships or finding out about resources we didn’t know existed.

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